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  • Purdue coach Jeff Brohm shouts to officials after Northwestern's JR Pace intercepted a pass by Elijah Sindelar during the first half of an NCAA college football game Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018, in West Lafayette, Ind. (John Terhune/Journal & Courier via AP)

Friday, August 31, 2018 1:40 am

Turnovers foil Purdue in opener

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

WEST LAFAYETTE – No matter how this season turns out for Purdue, the Boilers will likely look back at this season-opener against Northwestern as a game it should have had. After falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter, Purdue was easily the better team the rest of the way and had plenty of opportunities to win the game even factoring in the early deficit.

Quarterback David Blough was asked after the whether it was fair to say Purdue beat Purdue. 

"Yeah," he responded. "Exactly."

Starting quarterback Elijah Sindelar tossed three interceptions in the first half, two of which came on extremely bad decisions (the third was simply an exceptional play by Northwestern's Nate Hall) and all three of which led to touchdowns. Points off turnovers are always difficult to overcome and the Wildcats had 21 before halftime, a total that turned out to be more than decisive in a tight game.

Blough played the second half and didn't turn the ball over. He also sparked the offense with his scrambling, which in turn opened up holes for a run game that had been almost non-existent in the first half outside of one huge Rondale Moore scamper. Blough's arm is more limited than Sindelar's, however, and he wasn't able to complete a few throws outside the hash marks that Sindelar probably could have. Those limitations might have played a part in a 14-play, 76-yard drive for Purdue ending in a field goal rather than the Boilermakers being able to punch the ball in for a tying touchdown.

And so the quarterback competition spins on. Coach Jeff Brohm declined to name a starter for the Sept. 8 game against Eastern Michigan.

"We'll have to watch the film and evaluate," he said. "I'm not gonna make a call right yet. I think at every position, we want competition, we want guys to play at their highest level. We want guys to get better every week."

No matter who plays quarterback, it's likely they'll be throwing or handing off often to Moore. The freshman had a breakout appearance on national TV in his first college game, breaking a school record that had stood since 1972 with 313 all-purpose yards. He had 302 of those in the first half and was mostly stymied in the second, so Purdue will have to figure out a way to keep him from getting tired and get him the ball more often in open space as the season continues.

The biggest question mark for the Boilermakers remains the defensive front. With all the inexperience on the defensive line, Purdue got gashed on the run in the first half, surrendering 119 yards in the first 20 minutes, which contributed to giving up 31 points.

"I didn't think they played very hard in the first half," Brohm said of the defense. "I didn't think they finished, I didn't think they ran to the ball, I thought they were not going full speed. They weren't physical. It was really disappointing. That's gotta get fixed. ... There is some inexperience, sometimes they just don't know how hard you've got to play."

In the second half, however, the defense was wildly better, shutting out the Wildcats and holding them to just 47 yards on the ground. Markus Bailey remains a star at linebacker and the defensive line got tremendous push up front after halftime. The cornerbacks were especially impressive as Tim Cason and Fort Wayne native Antonio Blackmon showed they're capable of locking down opposing receivers.

Still, the damage had been done in the opening half. Too many turnovers, not enough defensive stops, too many penalties. The Boilermakers had a raucous crowd behind them – the students packed their section and were loud throughout – and were the better team for long stretches. Purdue has the talent to win games like this, and it'll need to do so if it wants to reach the next level this season.

dsinn@jg.net